A Bradenton gang of drug dealers has been found guilty of running a conspiracy that used violence, including six murders, to protect its heroin and cocaine business.
Their turf was 11th Street East in Oneco. Their reign of violence included three murders on New Year’s Day 2016 that initially stumped local detectives.
On Tuesday, following a three-week-long trial at Tampa’s federal courthouse, a jury found the group’s leader, Jordan “Big Man” Rodriguez, 26, along with two additional members, Andrew “Nico” Thompson, 25, and Alfonzo “Boo Boo” Churchwell, 32, guilty of racketeering conspiracy, drug trafficking conspiracy and maintaining a drug house.
Rodriguez was also found guilty murder, weapons and other charges in connection with the Jan. 1, 2016, death of Julio Tellez.
Thompson was also found guilty of various drug-related charges and of murder and related charges in in connection to the deaths of Lashawna Stevenson-Weeks and Berry “B-1” Joseph. Churchwell was also found guilty of using a firearm for drug trafficking and in the Sept. 11, 2016, murder of Earnestine Gardner and being a convicted felon in possession of ammunition.
A sentencing hearing has not yet been set, but each of the three men face up to life in prison. Rodriguez and Thompson’s murder convictions carry mandatory life sentences.
The case was a long-time coming, according to Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells.
“We were very happy obviously that they were convicted, as they should have,” Wells said. “We put a lot of man hours and a lot of work to make sure to get this outcome so we are very pleased.”
Building a federal case of this magnitude requires a lot more work than most people can imagine, the sheriff stressed.
“I am proud of the detectives and everybody that worked on this case because they are committed to making sure the conclusion is exactly what we have here today,” Wells said.
The group of six men, initially indicted in May 2018, were charged in a 20-count superseding indictment handed up last July.
Three of the men, took plea deals in September ahead of the trial.
Raymy Escoto and Phillip Uscanga each pleaded guilty to committing arson. Juan “Manco” Ortiz pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
A seventh man charged in the original indictment, Jesse Rodriguez, took a plea deal just two days before the superseding indictment was filed. He pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, drug trafficking conspiracy and running a drug house.
The original indictment in this case came on the heels of the successful prosecution of another criminal enterprise in Manatee County that also resorted to murder to protect their drug business and terrorize the Manatee community for years.
“Popo” Harris, Deonte “Tang” Martin, Napoleon “Pole” Harris, Jerry “Jerk” Green, Charlie “Mr. 30N32” Green and Corey “James” Harris were each sentenced to life in prison for their crimes with the community’s message delivered by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, “Manatee County doesn’t want you back, and I agree with them.”
This latest case was again a collaboration between detectives at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators, and prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys Christopher Murray and Natalie Adams and part of the commitment they made to the community.
“We’re going to continue to work together to put these individuals away that are committing these types of crimes,” Wells said Tuesday.